For 10 years, Yankees manager Joe Girardi has lived and died by his binder full of decisions to make. After an 8-3 lead against the Cleveland Indians turned into a 9-8 loss in 13 innings and a 2-0 deficit in the American League Division Series, Girardi and his binder may be applying for a job across town with the Mets.
What was set to be the Yankees’ biggest postseason win impact and momentum-wise in years instead turned into a heartbreaking defeat that lasted nearly five hours. Home runs by Gary Sanchez, Aaron Hicks, and Greg Bird, as well as a 2009-like performance from CC Sabathia, were overshadowed by Girardi making questionable calls that led to the Yankees’ bullpen allowing six runs in the loss.
Who is to blame for the Yankees’ historic Game Two loss? Is it Girardi and his poor decision making with regards to pitcher usage? Does Girardi earn more of the blame for not challenging the hit-by-pitch? What about Ronald Torreyes or Aaron Judge?
Naturally, Girardi is going to get the most blame because he’s the manager of the losing team and did make some questionable calls, but let’s do our best to neutrally examine each of veteran manager’s most controversial decisions.
- Removing CC Sabathia in the sixth inning when the former Cy Young winner had finally settled down. Girardi said both during and following the game that the Yankees were doing all year what they’d done with Sabathia in monitoring his pitch count, his efficiency, and how much longer they needed him on the mound. In a 5-3 game, Girardi going to the bullpen would have made sense, but this was still a five-run game and Sabathia was in a groove. Even with how deep the Yankees’ bullpen is, was it worth bringing Green or Robertson in that early after the week they’ve had? That leads to…
- Poor bullpen management. For years, this has been one of Girardi’s calling cards, but a dominant second half from the bullpen, especially after Robertson rejoined the Yankees in July, has allowed the issue to become swept under the rug. In a five-run game, why was Chad Green the first option? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to bring in Tommy Kahnle or even Betances to get out of the sixth and pitch the seventh? What about Luis Severino?
Then, there’s the issue of pitch counts, provided by the MLB.com box score. Should Green have thrown 23 pitches not even three days after pitching nearly three innings against the Twins? Probably not, and we knew that even before Francisco Lindor hit a grand slam off the foul pole. Robertson threw 25 after throwing over 50 pitches against the Twins, while Dellin Betances hung around for 35 pitches. Tommy Kahnle, on the other hand, only threw eight pitches.
What was Girardi hoping to achieve by having relievers that are either used to four outs at most or have already been worked more than usual this week pitch as much as they did? Sabathia, when he was pulled, was still only at 77 pitches in five and one-third innings. He had to have plenty of gas left in the tank to at least try to get those outs, right?
Girardi did address all of this in his postgame press conference with reporters.
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) October 7, 2017
But, of course, we get to the non-review. I genuinely don’t think there’s any defense for this. Let’s roll the tape.
Lonnie Chisenhall foul tip that should have been called strike three. No challenge by Girardi, horrible call pic.twitter.com/H6025WqtVo
— Ideal Mkai (@Mkai__) October 7, 2017
At that time, Girardi had two replay challenges to use and Sanchez, who had the best look in the entire stadium at what happened, pleaded for his manager to review the call. Girardi instead sat on the bench and did nothing. If the worst-case scenario is simply the play stands and Green has to try closing the at-bat out, you can still make the argument that the Yankees tried!
There is a defense that Girardi made the right call saving the challenge in an 8-3 game and hoping Green could pitch out of the jam, but how far does that idea go when facing an offense like Cleveland’s? The issue of there only being 30 seconds to make a call on whether to replay the play or not also came up, as Girardi explained when talking with reporters.
“There was nothing that told us that he was not hit on the pitch. By the time we got the (super slow-motion replay), we were… way too late,” Girardi said. “Being a catcher, I never want to break a pitcher’s rhythm.”
At face value, it’s a fair defense, but why wouldn’t Girardi trust Sanchez’s opinion that the ball didn’t hit Chisenhall? Is risking a pitcher’s rhythm worse than his confidence?
When all is said and done, there’s only so much blame that can be placed on Girardi. Green was the one that gave up the grand slam, not Girardi. Robertson was the one that allowed Jay Bruce to hit a game-tying home run, not Girardi. Ronald Torreyes was the one picked off second base by catcher Yan Gomes in extra innings, not Girardi.
But the calls that even put those players in those situations is what will reflect on Girardi for a long time, especially if the Yankees fail to win three straight games. Some will speculate if this game, and by extension a series loss, puts Girardi – who currently does not have a contract for the 2018 season – on the hot seat.
When the Yankees do decide to make a call on Girardi’s status for next season, they may want to avoid the fear of breaking the team’s rhythm and do what makes sense. At least, whatever that call is.
[Featured Image by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images]